Belle Époque in Ferrara

Boldini and Fashion

At the beautiful Palazzo dei Diamanti in Ferrara, one of the most famous Renaissance buildings in the world, is hosting the exhibition “Boldini e la moda,” from February 16th to June 2nd 2019. An extraordinary exhibition that examines the long relationship between Giovanni Boldini and the Parisian high fashion between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Who was Boldini

Giovanni Boldini (1842-1931) born in Ferrara, moved from Ferrara to Florence to study at the Academy of Fine Arts, where he approached the Macchiaioli (the Italian equivalent of the French Impressionists), who will have a significant influence on his artistic career.

It is then moved to Paris, London, and again Paris—the places to be for all artists at that time—becoming part of the sparkling Parisian life and becoming the most coveted and desired portrait painter of the time. It is in Paris that he meets the likes of John Singer Sargent and James Abbott McNeill Whistler, among others.

A striking portrait of James Abbott McNeill Whistler by Giovanni Boldini

The Exhibition

Visitors will see sensual female figures of rare elegance and refinement, protagonists of the Parisian upper class, their detached attitude that speaks of an inner world, the one of the Parisian Belle Époque.

Boldini’s women

Boldini’s portraits of women (and Singer Sargent as well) of Belle Époque—with the splendors and luxuries that have characterized it—take the visitor to a journey through the fashion of the time and interpretation of the taste of the era. The attitude that stands out on the proud faces of women aware of their own charm and social position.

Boldini’s decisive brushstrokes that elegantly render drapes and precious silks. Immortalizing celebrities of an unparalleled era, the artist has placed on the canvas the modernity that links his work to the contemporary, representing the style and trends that will anticipate the photographic language of the twentieth century.

Fashion, Art, and Literature

The exhibition develops through sections represented by writers who were interested in the artistic aspect of fashion. From Baudelaire to Oscar Wilde, from Proust to D’Annunzio, the journey proceeds through a fascinating succession of works, clothes and shining objects of the era, linking fashion, art, and literature that characterized the Belle Époque. 

We can find a portrait of Aubrey Beardsley by Jacques-Émile Blanche, a friend of Oscar Wilde for whom he illustrated some of Wilde’s writings, we can easily identify this portrait as the “ideal” of the most famous “The Picture of Dorian Gray.”


We can admire the preparatory drawing for the famous Portrait of Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau) (1884), by Singer Sargent.

When the original painting first appeared at the Paris Salon in 1884, people were shocked and scandalized; the attempt to preserve the subject’s anonymity was unsuccessful, and the sitter’s mother requested that Sargent withdraw the painting from the exhibition. The poor public and critical reception was a disappointment to both artist and model. Sargent left Paris and move to London permanently, donating the drawing of the preparatory study for the portrait to his friend Boldini.


Notable is the double portrait of Muriel and Consuelo Vanderbilt (1913), testimony of the new style and silhouette worn in the 1910s.


The exhibition takes you thru the years of the successful Downton Abbey, the award-winning TV series, the gripping drama centered on a great English estate and a vanishing way of life.


This is yet another reason of “The Many Reasons to Visit Ferrara.

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I lived the most part of my life in Washington DC, now in Italy getting to know again my country. Plenty of surprises, for good and bad, and lots of nostalgia for DC.

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